Vermont business leaders are calling on Gov. Phil Scott to veto legislation that would make it easier for Vermonters to sue companies that have released toxic substances, and require them to pay for medical testing to monitor possible health effects.
The medical monitoring bill, S.37, has been a priority for Democratic lawmakers since 2016, when Bennington officials and residents learned of widespread drinking water contamination from PFOA chemicals released by ChemFab, a local manufacturer in their town.
But the legislation has faced resistance from business leaders and Republicans including Gov. Phil Scott, who vetoed a similar version of the bill last year, over concerns of the business community.
The bill landed on Scott’s desk earlier this week, but the governor hasn’t signaled whether he will strike down the legislation again. He has until Monday to make a decision.
Both the House and the Senate passed the bill with large enough majorities to override a veto.
In the House, the bill passed with 100 votes — exactly enough to override the governor’s veto pen. In the Senate, where 20 votes are needed to beat a veto, the proposal passed 21-8.
While last year’s bill applied to all companies, lawmakers narrowed the medical monitoring legislation this year to apply only to specific industries.
Under the legislation, the right to medical monitoring applies to businesses of 10 or more employees — or of 500 or more employees at multiple facilities — in the mining, manufacturing, transportation and utility sectors
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Businesses say that the bill presents burdensome risks and costs and that it opens them up to liabilities that are broader than in the 16 other states with medical monitoring standards.
“It would create liability risks and impose costs that don’t currently exist for manufacturers in the state today and it could possibly create incentives for those manufacturers to consider … to move their facilities to other states,” Lisa Ventriss, the president of the Vermont Business Roundtable, a group of top Vermont CEOS, said at a news conference called by business leaders Friday.
They also say that insurance costs for manufacturers will spike if the medical monitoring bill becomes law. Medical monitoring insurance would likely be expensive and difficult to obtain.
Chris Carrigan, the vice president of business development at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said the legislation would “disrupt the insurance markets and subject manufacturers to significant risks and costs.”
“Adding costs in return will place our manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage and may result in reactionary measures such as reduced investment in Vermont facilities,” Carrigan said.
Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, who co-sponsored S.37, said he was disappointed that businesses don’t believe their employees need the protections provided in the bill.
He said that the legislation includes a provision for the state to monitor insurance rates, and that the Legislature could move to intervene if they went up dramatically.
“This whole thing about the end of the world, I just don’t buy it,” Campion said.
He stressed that the legislation’s aim is to hold companies accountable for exposure to chemicals of their employees and the public.
“We don’t want taxpayers paying, we don’t want victims paying, we want the polluters to pay,” Campion said.
“I think companies that are afraid that they’re going to be polluters are going to be scared away and that’s fine,” he added.
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